How does Bhutan measure Gross National Happiness (GNH)?
Gross National Happiness, or GNH, is a holistic and sustainable approach to development, which balances material and non-material values.
“Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product,” declared the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972.
And hence the term ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH)’ was coined.
In establishing the Gross National Happiness Index, Bhutan created a metric to measure the Bhutanese’s quality of life.
Every 5 years, representatives of the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research traverse the south asian country with questionnaires to survey 8,000 randomly selected households. There are about 300 questions. Once upon a time, the survey took about 9 hours to complete. But now, it has been condensed into 3 hours. The participants are financially compensated with a day’s wage.
The questions are exhaustive. The objective is to glean a holistic gauge of the person’s material and spiritual wellbeing. It is an attempt to quantify the public mood.
Some questions might seem weird to us from the outside world. Here are some examples:
The Gross National Happiness Index
There are 4 pillars to the Gross National Happiness Index: good governance, sustainable socio-economic development, cultural preservation, and environmental conservation.
The GNH Index is a single number that is derived from 33 indicators that belong to 9 different domains.
The 9 domains of the GNH index are:
- Psychological well-being
- Time use
- Cultural diversity and resilience
- Good governance
- Community vitality
- Ecological diversity and resilience
- Living standards
Every one of these 9 domains are considered equally important.
At the end of the survey, the numerical answers are totaled, and they add up to a “score” that determines how “happy” the participant is.
According to their score, they are either unhappy, narrowly happy, extensively happy, or deeply happy.
50 - 65%
66 - 76%
In 2015, 91.3% of Bhutanese were found to be narrowly, extensively, or deeply happy, whereas 43.4% were extensively or deeply happy.
The ultimate goal is for all Bhutanese to be extensively or deeply happy.
Next, there is a formula that transforms these percentages into a single figure, called the GNH index.
In 2015, the GNH Index was 0.756, which is an improvement from 0.743 in 2010.
Gross National Happiness Directly Affects Public Policy
Here’s the best part: Gross National Happiness directly affects public policy.
The GNH domains are further broken down by population groups within the community, like gender, or district. This is to identify the weaknesses in different sectors of the demographic, so that the government can meet those needs. For example, if the women in a certain area are poorly educated, the government’s focus would then be on raising the level of education for women in said area.
On top of that, as one might imagine, GNH has a significant influence on Bhutan’s health care system.
Health is essential for economic and spiritual well-being, and hence a necessity to achieve Gross National Happiness.
Therefore, their constitution states that “the state shall provide free access to basic public health service in both modern and traditional medicines”.
How Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Differs from the Western Concept of Happiness
The western concept of happiness differs from the east.
In western cultures, happiness is about minimising an individual’s sadness. It is defined by achievements and self-fulfilment. There is great emphasis on autonomy and independence. It is the psychological ranking of a lone individual and also tied largely to material possession.
In the west, the primary indicator of social well-being is the Gross National Product (GNP). But the GNP does not take into account certain important factors. For instance, it does not consider psychologically beneficial activities like volunteering or friendship, nor the erosion of the environment. Consequently, it is no surprise that Western economies suffer from the degradation of these areas. Because after all, what isn’t measured is ignored.
On the other hand, the east sees the world through collectivism terms. Happiness is determined by the collective flourishing of the community. This eastern understanding of happiness is especially reflected in the Bhutanese GNH, where happiness is viewed in holistic terms.
Bhutan is a Buddhist Kingdom; the only one left in the world. Mahayana Buddhism is the official religion of Bhutan, and more than two thirds of Bhutanese are Buddhists.
On that account, Gross National Happiness is based on the Mahayana Buddhist central doctrine of obtaining happiness. The principle understanding of Buddhism is that extreme suffering exists in the world, and this can be resolved by abiding to the Buddhist dharma that promotes happiness.
Happiness does not directly translate from wealth. Instead, happiness is the sum total of our relationships with the people around us, our physical health, the vitality of the environment, comfortable living standards, and so much more.
Perhaps, the Bhutanese get it more than we do: that money isn’t everything.